Archive for March 2009

10 Marketing Sustainability Strategies in an Uncertain Economy

March 26, 2009


This week, amongst the three new speakers confirmed for the Action for a Sustainable America – Seattle is Marty MacDonald, the creative director  from brand communications agency Egg. We are always pleased to find speakers that blog and on the Egg blog  Marty’s team just posted number seven in a really excellent series of posts based from a discussion paper of the same name  – 10 Marketing Sustainability Strategies in an Uncertain Economy.


Also confirmed this week is another CEO to add to the growing list. Dave Williams, the CEO of ShoreBank Pacific – a commecial bank committed to environmental sustainable community development. Dave will be speaking about the capital issues involved with sutainability strategies.


Tony Kingsbury, the executive in residence at the Sustainable Products and Solutions Program, Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, has also joined the speaker line-up for ASA-Seattle.  With 24 years experience with Dow Chemical Tony is a recognized expert on global sustainability, environmentally preferred purchasing, life cycle thinking, plastics and chemical environmental issues and public policy. 


Cap and Trade or EPA regulation of CO2? Two very different scenarios for manufacturers

March 26, 2009

cleanairThe Environmental Protection Agency is pressing Obama to regulate climate change under the Clean Air Act, as reported by the Washington Post this week. If the administration decides the EPA should regulate climate action, this will have far reaching effects on the manufacturing sector. Some experts are saying tackling climate action under the Clean Air Act would be too complex and could hamper economic recovery while environmental watchdogs see it as the first sign that the new administration is serious about climate regulation. EPA regulation vs national cap and trade provide two very different scenarios for the manufacturing sector. We’ll tackle this topic as well at the Sustainable Manufacturing Summit next month in Chicago.

Can global manufacturers move to zero-waste?

March 26, 2009

We recently spoke to Ken Alston, CEO of McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC),on the challenges manufacturers face in becoming sustainable and moving to zero waste. Here is an excerpt from that interview. Ken will be joined by Herman Miller and Shaw Industries at our Sustainable Manufacturing Summit in Chicago next month to provide an interactive session on Cradle to Cradle design.

kenalston2What are some recent examples of manufacturers that have moved from eco-efficient to eco-effective production?

Shaw Industries, a Berkshire Hathaway Company, made the ground-breaking decision several years ago to design an environmentally-intelligent carpet tile with the same cost and performance as standard carpet tiles. As the leading flooring provider to the commercial market, Shaw began its product development work internally and then hired MBDC to review its intended product formulation and concepts for product recovery from a Cradle to Cradle(SM) perspective.

Shaw and MBDC assessed and optimized the Eco Solution Q fiber, EcoWorx backing and additives for human health, environmental health. The companies also found ways to make the product fully and perpetually recyclable. With these final steps, Shaw realized the goal of finding a cost and quality standard equivalent to standard carpet tiles while at the same time leading the industry in design, color and recyclability — all benefits for Shaw’s customers.

Herman Miller’s “journey to sustainability” is a great model of how one company’s comprehensive long-term commitment to sustaining their industry, has led to the integration of ecologically intelligent design and business practices. Herman Miller’s senior staff challenged MBDC to design a blueprint for integrating Cradle to Cradle(SM) design into the company’s product development system.

Working closely with Herman Miller’s DFE team, MBDC developed a tool to transfer assessment findings from the Cradle to Cradle process into data that could then be used directly by Herman Miller for material selection and product design. The assessment system also served a few different functions: it analyzed and scored materials for their human and environmental health effects, recyclability, percentage of recycled content and/or use of renewable resources; and it evaluated the disassembly potential of product design. The tool was designed to help engineers score and improve the attributes of each design iteration.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities for large, global manufacturers looking to transition to cradle to cradle design?

One of the most significant challenges is in implementing preferred ingredient chemistry into material selection and product design, since the research of preferred formulations is still a nascent effort. MBDC, its clients, their suppliers and other partners are working to change that reality, expanding the measures of what is a “sustainable product” and actualizing that vision.

In addition to improving product design, there also is the need to develop infrastructure and systems for recycling products and materials following their useful life into subsequent product generations – realizing the goal of closing material loops.

Another challenge is helping a company or industry move beyond the quarterly view to envision longer-term benefits. Since the Cradle to Cradle(SM) espouses a broader view and new way of implementing sustainable design, there often needs to be initial investment and leveraging change in the status quo, which can be hard to engage. Often what helps is the long-term view by CEOs, PR/marketing staff, government relations or other client staff who acknowledge the value of proactive sustainability improvement.

What do you hope to gain from participating in the Sustainable Manufacturing Summit?

We look forward to exchanging ideas with participants, demonstrating the value of the Cradle to Cradle(SM) framework for tangible sustainable design enhancements, and connecting with company representatives whom we can assist in their own efforts to transform and “eliminate the concept of waste.”

Defining sustainability

March 23, 2009

An interesting blog on the definition of sustainability in From our experience, when people present on sustainability they tend to go for the very broad definition as outlined in the Brundtland Commission . But I guess it all depends on who your audience is. In Seattle in June William Blackburn is going to present some research on this very subject. What do various stakeholders expect from your company when it comes to sustainability?

Do ants play Xbox? (and other sustainability marketing issues)

March 19, 2009

The more I hear it, the more I hate the phrase “green wash”. While it is a tremendously important issue it is too often used glibly as a catch-all put-down against corporate environmental responses.  I am sure that often the term is merited  but the phrase unhelpfuly hides and detracts from the complexity of what it means to become sustainable. Even the term “becoming sustainable” misses the point. Anyone looking at this seriously from a corporate perspective knows  you can never actually become fully sustainable. 

In the inspiring Cradle to Cradle  the lives of ants are frequently held up as an example of the sustainable ideal. The argument goes something like this: there are loads of ants, in fact more biomass in the form of ants than there is human biomass, but they carry on doing their ant thing without harming the planet.  We need to be more ant-like in our outlook.

The trouble is, and I am no biologist,  ants dont drink lattes, play Xbox or take vacations. With issues surrounding sustainability no company or even individual can be 100% sustainable (unless you’re an ant). At some level any organisation that promotes their environmental activities with wholly good intentions, can be lazily accused of green wash.   

Like it or not, the phrase green wash is here to stay which gets me to the purpose of this post. At what point do you get the marketing involved in developing your sustainability strategy? I had a conversation with a Seattle conference speaker today who suggested the Action for a Sustainable America – Seattle program was missing a solid discussion on marketing within strategy?

It’s not a simple answer and therefore might make for a good discussion.  If marketing is involved in strategy from the start isn’t that putting the emphasis on doing something that sells and promotes rather than doing something that is sustainable? If you leave marketing to the end – simply labelling and promoting a product as green or sustainable then that really is shallow and green wash.   Smart companies realize that sustainability and marketing are about continuous engagement, dialogue and input  – which is not a business as usual approach and would be good to hear about. Any thoughts?

Microsoft’s Rob Bernard is opening Action for a Sustainable America in Seattle

March 12, 2009

We are very excited to have Microsoft’s Chief Environmental Strategist, Rob Bernard, opening our first Action for a Sustainable America event. Rob and Microsoft epitomise what underlines this series of events. As issues surrounding sustainability and climate change are increasingly becoming mainstream for polititicians, consumers and investors, simply responding to issues with good intentions as and when they occur is totally inadequate.  Smart companies have realised that it is only when you decide to use sustainability to drive strategy within an organisation can you start to reap the potential rewards through better management, more efficient use of resources and sustainability driven innovation.

International Sustainability Expert David Refkin on Obama’s endorsement of cap and trade

March 12, 2009


President Obama has announced his support for Cap and Trade legislation and has asked
Congress for a bill this year. What has followed this announcement has unfortunately been rather predictable. The typical context has been “how much will it cost me or our organization”?

People are not asking the question, “What will it cost if we don’t start to deal with climate change – now.”? The Stern Report was published in the UK in the fall of 2006 to analyze the economic impacts of climate change. That report stated that 1% of global GDP needs to be invested in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Failure to do so could risk a reduction in global GDP of up to 20%. Lord Stern later revised the cost to 2% because climate change is occurring far faster than the worst fears of the scientific community.

We all know that we are living in challenging economic times. The warning signs were out there but virtually everyone was in denial. What were we hearing back in 2006: Don’t worry about real estate values they have NEVER gone down from the previous year; Mortgages don’t require income or assets – doesn’t seem be causing a problem; We continue to run huge budget and trade deficits, despite strong economic growth – who me worry. One could say we are just as much in denial now as it relates to climate change – we’ve seen the highest average temperatures in the last ten years; we are seeing incredible variability in our weather and draughts in many places throughout the globe. Three years ago the prediction was an ice-free Arctic summer by 2040 – the latest predictions now say 2012 – just 3 years from now. Yet, when we get 20 degree weather in March, people say “global warming – sure.”

We should have learned by now that living in denial means just deferring the pain and increasing the level of suffering. Can we afford to disappoint our children yet again?

David Refkin is an international recognized sustainability expert based in New York.